My porn name is Zed Sheng. I was born in Singapore in 1983 so I’m 39. I arrived in America about 10 years ago for the first time for school, and I did my MFA in Chicago for about 2 years. Then I went back to Singapore to teach and I was there for about 5 or 6 more years. Then I decided to come back to do my Ph.D, started my master’s program in New York, and then I moved to the Bay Area to continue my Ph.D.
I am doing my Ph.D in theater and performance, and there has been a lot of literature written by scholars about Asian American masculinity, and it’s always divided into two different camps. One camp insists that in order for Asian males to be seen they have to be represented, and because it’s the “model minority” myth, they have to be more masculine than white men. And that kind of Asian American hyper-masculine male sexuality is something that I’m not comfortable with.
But there’s also a new school of scholarship that comes from people who are more interested in queer studies. Nguyễn Tân Hoàng wrote a book called “A View from the Bottom: Asian American Masculinity and Sexual Representation,” and in it he champions a notion of bottomhood and submissiveness and objectification as a way of thinking about a unique form of power or control, and, you know, it’s like taking control from below and not having to always expect a certain kind of aggressive masculinity to win the conversation. And that was a really revolutionary and transformative way of thinking about power for me.
As a student when I came here, because of my background in dance and performance, I chose to become a part-time go-go dancer, but in a way, the profession also “chose” me. As an Asian migrant student, the opportunities for side gigs are very, very limited. And the only thing we can do that is flexible enough that would allow us to get some remuneration over relatively short working hours was remote online sex work and go-go dancing. So the restriction around work opportunities is perhaps the reason why many international students pursue OnlyFans and sex work.
I just got married last year. Of course I’ve had the privilege of being able to be relatively unmonitored as I leave and enter the country as a Singaporean citizen. At the same time also this privilege of like, “Oh, I can just go home and leave this country at any given time.”
But things have shifted since, and I guess I can call myself now “first generation.” Because of my relationship and my partner and my chosen profession on the side, which is porn, I don’t think I can ever comfortably return to Singapore and exist there in that kind of restriction and repression that a gay, Asian, sex-positive person would feel in my home country.
Coming from Singapore to the U.S., when we think about resistance or we think about resisting the state, it’s never an aggressive move because of the restrictions that are in place. So it always has to be a very subtle dance with authorities and playing with bureaucracy and resisting and then letting go and resisting. Whereas in America I feel that a lot of times when people think about protest and resistance it just falls into, like, taking to the streets, holding signs, standing in the parade for an hour. It’s all very event-based, very spectacular. And how can we think about forms of resistance that are more subtle, that are more quiet, that might not be visible, might not be an event, but is durational and is a discipline and a practice.
And this is my way of durational resistance, a resistance to my Singaporean conditioning. I feel alive when I do porn. It gives me a tingly sensation like no other thing that I’m doing. I feel alive when I’m validated and sexualized. There’s something that I’ve never had the ability to experience when I was in Singapore. For so long, I had suppressed the sexual side of my artistic practice in Singapore, which was always present and bubbling under the surface, but never truly allowed to manifest. But the narrative is also not so simple. Whenever the camera is on, I’m always afraid of appearing submissive or weak because I’m afraid of how people might judge.
I see at this transition point a new kind of figure for Asian masculinity in America that is only possible because of platforms where creators are in control of their own content, where now you see more Asian submissive bottoms claiming that title proudly because of OnlyFans. Not only the people who are in the studios can decide who can appear in porn, what roles they perform and how porn is distributed.
My first shoot is with PeterFever in Vegas. And they wouldn’t have found me if I wasn’t posting on OnlyFans, on Twitter. They are the only studio that has approached me thus far. And I’ve sent out applications to so many studios, you know, and, crickets. They don’t understand that the international Asian market is so huge. So to be a content creator or studio and limit yourself to only what the American market desires is actually quite myopic.
In my personal life I’m married to an older white man. There’s an intergenerational, intercultural gap between us. But he’s also my love, and we’ve been together for 5 years. Every time we are together in our isolated space, we are treating each other as equal partners in life. But whenever we go out into society, even if it’s for a meal, sitting down at a restaurant, there are these microaggressions that happen like who gets the check, who the waiter looks at, some assumption society has when they look at an intergenerational couple like us. You know, all these really racist stereotypes. And by being more visible about my sexuality and doing porn it can be a strategy of reconfiguring, hopefully in the future, this social expectation or prejudice.